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Denver police kill Antonio Blackbear, prompting protests this past weekend

Sep 17, 2020 | News | 0 comments

//The memorial made for Antonio Blackbear near where he was killed by Denver police on Sept. 9. Photo by Polina Saran | polinasarana@gmail.com

At the state Capitol on Sept. 11 activists gathered to mourn the death of Antonio Blackbear, who was killed by Denver police two days prior.

His family participated in the protest as well, marching with signs that read, “Justice for Antonio Blackbear,” and sharing stories about growing up with him and sharing fond memories they had with him. 

The protests were interrupted around midnight as police swept the area and beat at least two protesters. In this video posted to Twitter, two individuals are walking on the sidewalk as officers begin to approach them from all directions. The video allegedly shows that officers can be heard asking the protesters what they are doing. Any command to stop walking is not discernible in the video. Denver currently does not have a curfew, therefore the justification for the arrest of three protestors is not immediately clear. Police have not released a statement on the arrests. 

On Sept. 9, Denver police responded to several calls reporting a man threatening people with a weapon near 11th Avenue and Osage Street shortly before 5 p.m. 

Division Chief Ron Thomas said officers got to the scene “pretty quickly” and found a man, later identified as Antonio Blackbear, allegedly with a gun near 10th Avenue and Osage Street. 

According to Thomas, officers got out of their cars and “challenged” Blackbear, who then started moving toward the officers in a “threatening manner,” according to reports. Officers purportedly told him to stop and drop his weapon. Police said he did not comply. Two officers then fired their weapons at Blackbear. 

Thomas did not make clear what prompted the officers to begin shooting, only that Blackbear had been moving toward the officers. Thomas said Blackbear did not shoot his gun. The shooting reportedly happened near 10th Avenue and Inca Street. 

The distance between Inca and Osage Streets on 10th Avenue is half a mile, which would take a person roughly 10 minutes to walk. The police report does not explain how the dispute moved to the intersection where the shooting occurred. Police have yet to release video of the incident, which could help explain the discrepancy. Blackbear’s friends dispute the police’s statement regarding the incident, saying they don’t believe Blackbear had a gun. 

Blackbear was taken to a hospital after the incident, where he succumbed to his injuries on Thursday morning. He was 41 years old. Blackbear was a member of the Lakota tribe and the adopted cousin of Paul Castaway, another Lakota man killed by the Denver Police five years ago. 

In 2015, Castaway—who struggled with schizophrenia and addiction—threatened his mother and himself with a knife. His mother, fearing for her and her son’s safety, called Denver police. When they arrived, officers told him to drop the knife, to which Castaway responded, “If you shoot me, I’m going to kill myself.” He took seven big steps toward the officers with the knife held to his throat. Officer Michael Traudt pulled the trigger three times, striking Castaway twice. Castaway died from gunshot wounds to the torso. 

Although it is unclear as of now how the two shootings may compare, Castaway’s death is an indictment of how police across the nation are ill-equipped to deal with cases in which someone struggles with a mental illness. Suicidal ideation and threats like Castaway’s are shockingly common among Native communities, according to The Denver Post. The suicide rate is nearly double the national average and is increasing more rapidly than that of any other race. “It is a rate on par with the homicide rate in Chicago and roughly double the opioid overdose death rate nationwide,” the article said. 

Indigenous people are more likely than any other racial group to be killed by police. According to a Cultural Survival article, when compared to their percentage of the U.S. population, Natives were more likely to be killed by police than any other group, including African Americans. By age, Natives 20-24, 25-34 and 35–44 were three of the five groups most likely to be killed by police. The other two groups were African Americans between the ages of 20-24 and 25-34. 

“I don’t think it’s right. Because the Denver Police have been getting away with killing so many young people. Yeah, my son had a knife to his throat, but he was more of a threat to himself than he was to the police,” his mother, Lynn Eagle Feather, said in an interview with Mother Jones

Attorney Mitch Morrissey cleared Traudt of any wrongdoing, but the family sued for wrongful death in 2016. Traudt remains on the force to this day. 

Blackbear’s family have not given any public statement through their lawyer at this time, but urge any witnesses to the incident to contact their lawyer. Potential witnesses may contact Baumgartner Law at 303-LAW-FIRM (303-529-3476).

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